Sky Full of Bacon

The standard argument for industrial agriculture is that we have no choice— organic can’t feed everybody. In this Sky Full of Bacon podcast we meet Gary Zimmer, a Wisconsin-based farmer, dairy nutritionist and author who’s spent 25 years building a movement that proves this isn’t so— and that a more natural form of farming can be more profitable for farmers (because they spend less to grow it) and even outperform industrial agriculture in sheer quantity. Not to mention, the end result is some pretty awesome and unique cheese. If you want to know more about what’s going on behind your local farmers’ market, this video reveals one side of that world. (21:45)


Bartlett Durand, who is Gary Zimmer’s son-in-law and owns Black Earth Meats, was also in the last Sky Full of Bacon podcast, The Butcher’s Karma.

Gary Zimmer’s books are here and here. Otter Creek Farms is here. Midwestern Bio-Ag is here.

I met Gary Zimmer and Bartlett Durand on this trip, and Bartlett again here, but even before then, I liked their cheese a lot. As that notes, you can find Otter Creek cheeses at the Logan Square Farmer’s Market and Provenance.

The second chapter of Finding Grace, my series about the creation of Curtis Duffy’s Grace, is here:

Finding Grace 2: Wine from Michael Gebert on Vimeo.

The first chapter of a series devoted to the opening of Michelin-starred chef Curtis Duffy’s Grace. (7:09)

Meet three butchers who are changing the way we grow food and consume it— by finding their way back to a more traditional way of raising meat. Rob Levitt of Chicago’s The Butcher & Larder, Paul Kahan of Chicago’s Publican Quality Meats and Bartlett Durand of Black Earth Meats in Black Earth, Wisconsin are each reconnecting chefs, consumers and farmers in their own way. Butchers are hip now, and that’s part of their appeal in this video too, but it also shows that there’s more to it than that in the ways these butchers use meat to create community. (28:49)

Please note: while this video does not show slaughter, it does show plenty of meatcutting, because that’s what butchers do.


Here’s my coverage of this video’s premiere at Uncommon Ground, at an event with, and here’s my post about the event at last year’s Family Farmed Expo (now renamed Good Food Festival & Conference) which inspired this video to a considerable degree, by showing me how these three guys were interrelated. (They appeared with Ellen Malloy and with Herb Eckhouse of La Quercia, who I already made a video about.) Here’s the trailer for that event.

Here are links to the three butchers featured in it:
The Butcher & Larder
Publican Quality Meats
Black Earth Meats

Paul Kahan (and two of his restaurants) were in this earlier video and this one; Rob Levitt and the restaurant he used to have were in this one.

Chef Jared Van Camp makes the first pizza in Nellcôte’s word-burning oven. (6:20)

Chef Jared Van Camp shows off the in-house pasta mill at his new restaurant Nellcôte. (5:04)

Pleasant House Bakery on the South Side of Chicago embodies the entire farm-to-table ethos… within a few, very urban, square blocks of Chicago. (8:40)

This was my film for the 2nd Chicago Food Film Festival, shown on opening night with chef-owner Art jackson (and everybody who was in it except Eric the bartender) in the house. Always great to have the chance to see one of my videos with an audience, and also great to continue the story of Art’s dedication to local eating and farm to table cuisine, as seen in this long-ago Sky Full of Bacon video, which in turn owes its origins to Art’s comment on my very first video here on my blog. So remember— commenting is the first step to stardom!

P.S. I actually had a second video shown on Sunday, though it’s actually just a cutdown of one you’ve presumably seen, put together to go with some of Rob Levitt’s food at the festival. And check out my pictures of the festival with links to many of the other films at Grub Street.

There’s more than food in Chicago’s South Side barbecue joints— there’s the whole history of African-Americans in Chicago.

Though not as famous as barbecue styles in other parts of the country, Chicago’s South Side barbecue culture is distinctive and shaped by the African-American experience in the 20th century— from the great migration from the South to the civil rights movement and racial turmoil of the 1960s. This in-depth tour talks to half a dozen pitmasters, a sauce maker, a pit manufacturer and barbecue historians to show how barbecue was shaped by life in Chicago and in turn served as a vehicle for the aspirations of the black community from the Depression to the present day. Oh, and there’s lots of juicy BBQ food porn in it, too.

(Yes, it’s by far the longest one I’ve ever done. But it won’t feel like it— barbecue is fun food and this is a jumpin’, jivin’ history. I thought about cutting it into two parts, but it’s the internet, if you want to pause it, there are plenty of logical places to take a break.)


Here are some pieces that I did for Time Out Chicago, based on some of the interviews conducted here: this one interviews some pitmasters, this one is about the “aquarium” smoker. By the way, you know how you can tell an Avenue Metal aquarium smoker from one made by somebody else? Look for the octagonally-rounded corners, a distinctive design element. There’s one non-Avenue pit in the video. (Here’s some interesting history about the term.)

Here’s Meathead Goldwyn’s site, Amazing Ribs.

Here’s an ancient piece by Mike Sula that is more or less an account of the discovery of Honey 1, featuring Peter Engler who is in my video (and representing sort of the high point of the aquarium-smoker-no-sauce orthodoxy that dominated BBQ discussion at Chowhound and LTHForum for years).

Although this video pays high tribute to that style, I’m all for good barbecue however you make it, and you can see a master of the gas-cooker Southern Pride, Barry Sorkin of Smoque, in this Key Ingredient video by me. And of course, here’s my first video about barbecue, Texas barbecue to be specific.

One thing that didn’t make the final cut was Argia B. Collins’ career as a music producer (really, kind of a sponsor of up and coming talent) in the late 60s and 70s. Here’s the hit record he made with the soul singer Garland Green, and an interview with Green which mentions Collins as his mentor.

Here are links to sites of the businesses in the video, where any exists:

Lem’s Bar-B-Q
Honey 1 BBQ (incidentally, I made up the tagline you see on the homepage)
Cole’s Family BBQ
Avenue Metal
Argia B.’s Mumbo Sauce
Pizza-Ribs-N-Things seems to be down at the moment, but I left it in the video assuming it will come back…

Go behind the scenes of one of the midwest’s liveliest and tastiest ethnic food festivals.

Melrose Park, Illinois has been a traditionally Italian-American suburb since the end of World War II, and though it’s starting to change, every year the old neighborhood gets back together for the Labor Day weekend festival Taste of Melrose Park. My friend David Hammond has covered this festival, with some 70 mostly amateur, mostly Italian-American vendors serving up family recipes for three days straight, for several years, so he was a natural guide for this journey behind the scenes. Every dish here has a story about the family who makes it, and we talk to ten of those families about their recipe and why it’s important to them to share it with others. It runs about 19 minutes, but it’s a party, so you won’t notice the time!

Here’s my post about my first visit to the Taste of Melrose Park last year. Here’s David’s very first LTHForum post about it, a post about this year, a Tribune piece, and a WBEZ radio piece about it.

Alternate ways of viewing this video: see it or subscribe to Sky Full of Bacon at iTunes here, or view it at Vimeo here. There is also a family-friendly version (which deletes one off-color bit of humor) here, for institutional or other use. To embed either version, go to that Vimeo page and click on the Embed button to acquire the code to place on your own site or blog.

To see previous Sky Full of Bacon videos, click here.

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Come See Me Do a Talk Show in a Bar!

I’ll be a guest on You Me Them Everybody, taped for audio podcast at The Hungry Brain, 2319 W. Belmont, Monday night at 9 pm., Oct. 4. And I’ll be giving out weird foods to try. Be there!


Farmers and chefs, can’t live with ’em, can’t… In this Sky Full of Bacon I look at the question of whether quality, sustainable agriculture can scale up to meet the needs of our modern food system by talking to a bigtime Chicago chef and one of the local, organic farmers he buys from.

Sky Full of Bacon 15: Big Chef Small Farmer from Michael Gebert on Vimeo.

Mark Mendez is chef of one of Chicago’s largest restaurants, and certainly the biggest restaurant with any kind of commitment to organic and local foods, Carnivale. David Cleverdon of Kinnikinnick Farm near Clarendon, Illinois is one of the many farmers who supplies Carnivale with high quality, organic produce. I talk to the two of them to get a sense of how chefs and farmers are both trying to work their way toward a system that supports better food and forms of farming— and deal with the challenges imposed on them by the realities of the other guy’s business. It’s a literally down-to-earth look at the issues too often discussed mainly at the 10,000-foot level in books and documentaries about the industrial food system.

With the irony that this podcast (delayed for over a month by heavy rains that prevented planting, and thus shooting of planting, at Kinnikinnick Farm) became notorious for to me, I finished it just as Mark Mendez announced that he would be leaving Carnivale in August. It may be tempting to read some signs of dissatisfaction into what he talks about here, and certainly you can sense that he was increasingly interested in running a smaller, more chef-driven restaurant, but for me the real story remains how restaurants like Carnivale and chefs like Mark are helping nudge the food system toward better ways of working, even when many would consider it just too big to even be able to care about such issues.

Here’s Carnivale’s site, and here’s Mark’s own blog; there’s not a lot there but this is a nice post about some of the same issues he talks about in the video. And in terms of previous Mendez-Media, Helen Rosner did this slideshow last year of Mendez showing you what to buy at the Green City Market— including Kinickinnick arugula.

Here’s Kinnikinnick’s site. You can buy their products at the Green City Market and the Evanston Farmer’s Market.


About Sky Full of Bacon

Sky Full of Bacon #14: The Last Days of Kugelis
Sky Full of Bacon Short: Making Illegal Cheese
Sky Full of Bacon #13: Pie As a Lifestyle
Sky Full of Bacon Short: Edzo’s Burger Shop
Sky Full of Bacon #12: In the Land of Whitefish
Sky Full of Bacon #11: A Better Fish
Sky Full of Bacon #10: Prosciutto di Iowa
Sky Full of Bacon #9: Raccoon Stories
Sky Full of Bacon #8: Pear-Shaped World
Sky Full of Bacon #7: Eat This City
Sky Full of Bacon #6: There Will Be Pork (pt. 2)
Sky Full of Bacon #5: There Will Be Pork (pt. 1)
Sky Full of Bacon #4: A Head’s Tale
Sky Full of Bacon #3: The Last Brisket Show
Sky Full of Bacon #2: Duck School
Sky Full of Bacon #1: How Local Can You Go?

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